“Change is the only constant.” This well-worn phrase is uttered daily as a sort of badge of honor in offices the world over. Businesses tend to like change. Or, perhaps more to the point, many fear that not changing will lead to their demise. And when you layer growing business models with the advent of things like agile project management, the complexity and speed of change seems to be increasing at a rapid rate.

But how do people respond to change? That’s another story, of course. So for decades, business leaders have followed established models for rolling out change and combating the natural resistance to change. These well-tested strategies go something like this: Lead from the top down until change is adopted, cascade information to your frontline, identify your resisters and give them plenty of information until they, too, adopt the change.

But while our businesses have been changing, the demographics of our employees have evolved to include a much larger percentage of millennials—a group that (generally speaking) enjoys challenging the status quo to find their own way. So what happens when this younger generation meets the tried-and-true change models? Lately, my colleagues and I have been talking at length about the oncoming collision between the traditional organizational change and the culture shifts millennials are bringing to many organizations.

The millennial effect

They’re the most studied generation in history, and for the better part of a decade, we’ve collectively wondered what they want, how they work and how to attract them. And now that they’re the largest generation in the workforce, this younger generation has already started to shift cultures in ways we hadn’t imagined.
We’ve adjusted our career ladders, our office hours, even our work from home policies to respond to the needs and interests of millenials. But as far as change is concerned, I think we’re just scratching the surface of what they’re looking for.

Millennials are a far more democratic generation, one that seems to be ushering in a more humanized work environment. They are not satisfied with the simple top-down approach to change. They want more transparency. They want to feel truly heard and bought into change before it occurs.

Democratizing change

So how much does your change model need to bend to accommodate this culture shift? Change has, in some ways, always been skewed toward the will of the people–either they adopt a change or they don’t. So it’s worth a serious look.

I’m not suggesting that you should democratize your strategy. Ultimately, choices that move your business forward should continue to be your north star. Retaining an engaged workforce, though, will always be an important part of amplifying your company’s success, and as the war on talent ages on, we’re going to have to challenge our change model.

A culture of change

One of the best suggestions I’ve heard regarding how to prepare for this new wave of change management is probably the guidance that points toward creating a culture that responds eagerly to change. Stoking a culture that is primed for change by championing transparency and two-way communication will go a long way.

That’s easier said than done, of course, but this is a change that really does start at the top. The more leaders are willing to be vulnerable, humble and inclusive, the more likely they are to engender a culture that is receptive to new information and changes.

I’ve written before about the value of a People Operations team for a company, and I think in many ways, creating unifying, receptive cultures is the next big challenge for People teams. So how is your team responding to change management as your organizational culture shifts? Leave a comment below to let us know.


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